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The NDC and Open Government

by on April 2, 2014


In Section 5.4 of its 2012 – 2014 Open Government Plan http://www.archives.gov/open/open-government-plan-2.0.pdf, NARA discussed how it would assume a leadership role in the inter-agency process of reviewing historically valuable records for declassification and develop common processes among agencies to ensure a more efficient and effective review.  As a result of these efforts, the National Declassification Center (NDC) was able to meet the President’s quality assurance goal.  

 It’s time to update the Plan for 2014 – 2016.  The NDC is committed to processing the referrals properly identified during the quality assurance review that was completed in 2013.  To accomplish this, the NDC will implement a referral tracking system that will automatically notify appropriate representatives of other departments and agencies when their referrals in archival and presidential records are queued up and available for their review.

 We also will continue to solicit input from the public as to those collections of un-reviewed historical records should be prioritized for inter-agency review and processing.

 We are currently asking the public to submit their Open Government ideas for consideration.  Ideas may be submitted as a reply to this blog post or to ndc@nara.gov

You may also want to check out the kick off post on NARAtions, The Blog of the United States National Archives here: http://blogs.archives.gov/online-public-access/?p=9226

NARA-Open-Gov-Plan

What on Earth Is It?

by on March 28, 2014


Today’s find comes from Dr. Amanda Weimer, an Archives Specialist in the NDC.

The National Declassification Center recently responded to a Freedom of Information Act request for documents created and collected by the Department of the Air Force on the topic of “flying discs,” popularly known as “unidentified flying objects” (UFOs).  The Air Force studied sightings of UFOs under Project Sign, Project Grudge, and Project Blue Book between 1948 and 1970.

 Today’s document was collected under Project Grudge, and is a classic example of the skeptical tone taken by the study.  Mr. Albert Ehrke, who submitted this letter and the attached photograph to the Air Force, believed firmly that there was an earthly explanation at work: that the image of the “flying saucer” was “fake,” and that the Air Force might explain the photo as a “special, research balloon.”  The balloon suggestion is typical of the explanations offered to the public by Project Grudge, which also include clouds, refracted halos around the sun (sun dogs), and conventional aircraft.

 The NDC invites the public to share what they see in the photograph below.

 This document is available to the public in the reading rooms at Archives II, in College Park, MD.  To request the use of this original document, please use the following citation: Records of the Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff), (Record Group 341), Office of the Director of Intelligence; Mail and Records Section; Decimal Correspondence File, 1947-1954, box 293, folder “000.9 Flying Discs 1951”.

  The Letter                            The Image



This post comes from Dr. Amanda Weimer, an Archives Specialist with the National Declassification Center.

Two groups of additional records have been declassified within the past year as part of the ongoing efforts of the National Declassification Center to declassify all information found within the holdings of the National Archives relating to the Katyń Forest Massacre.

 As of this week, we are now able to release to the public an additional 205 pages previously withdrawn from the Department of the Army’s Permanent Retention Files, 1918-1963. 

The majority of the documents in this newest release comprise, or are related to, reports researched and compiled by Colonel Henry I. Szymanski, who served from 1942 to 1944 as the Assistant Military Attaché in Cairo, Egypt, and in particular as liaison to Polish and Czechoslovakian forces in the Middle East.  These reports described conditions endured by Polish prisoners of war, the Polish military’s search for missing Polish officers, and extracts of conversations with high-ranking Russian officials regarding the fate of prisoners interned at Starobielsk, Kozielsk and Ostashkov prison camps.

Szymanski relayed these reports to Major General George V. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff for the Military Intelligence Service, in May 1943.  In 1952, they were forwarded for the use of the “Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre”, also known as the Madden Committee.  Multiple memoranda record the advice offered in 1952 by Army and other government experts regarding which portions of Szymanski’s documents could be declassified and which information should remain secret, describing the damage which could result from public disclosure of the information.

These documents have been scheduled for digitization and upload to the Online Catalog (OPA).  In the interim, they are available to the public in the reading rooms at Archives II, in College Park, MD.  To request the use of this information, please use the following citation: Records of the Army Staff (Record Group 319), Permanent Retention Files, 1918-1963 (National Archives Identifier 2805914), box 131.

 In May 2013, the NDC released to the public 262 pages compiled by the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, Frederick G. Dutton.  Dutton’s official files contain a number of documents pertaining to and used by the Madden Committee.

Included in that release are clippings of Italian press coverage from 1952; summaries of press coverage of the prosecution of German citizens for Katyn at the Nuremberg Trials; declassified transcripts of hearings before the Madden Committee from September 19 and 23, 1952; correspondence arranging the testimony of various witnesses before the Committee; and declassified testimony from Michael Kuznitsov and David Mazur, including a small number of photographs taken in 1943 during the excavations of the mass graves.

The National Archives has digitized the two transcripts and the two items of testimony for researcher use online.  The rest of the items are available to the public in the reading rooms at Archives II, in College Park, MD.  To request the use of this information, please use the following citation:  General Records of the Department of State (Record Group 59), H. Bureau of Legislative Affairs Frederick G. Dutton’s Official Files as Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, 1962-1964 (National Archives Identifier 7062706), box 232.

 For a listing of known Katyń material in the custody of the National Archives, please see the finding aid Selected Records Relating to the Katyn Forest Massacre at the National Archives and Records Administration .

The NDC Celebrates Success

by on March 10, 2014


The Adrienne C. Thomas Auditorium at the National Archives in College Park was packed on the morning of February 28, 2014 as over two hundred people, representing agencies from throughout the Federal Government, came together to celebrate the completion of quality assurance review of over 351 million pages of historically valuable classified records accessioned by the National Archives, commonly known as “the backlog.” The President of the United States had directed this review and established a deadline of December 31, 2013 for its completion.  In less than four years, agencies came together in support of the National Declassification Center (NDC) to make this achievement possible by stopping the endless merry-go-round of re-review, adopting standard processes and adopting a risk management approach to records that had been previously reviewed. 

In her opening comments, describing just a few of the elements that went into the success of the effort, NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger remarked to the assembly, “Look around this room, success looks like each of you!”

This success does not mean that the work of the NDC is done.  Much like a commencement, the celebration represented a beginning as well as an end.  New records continue to be accessioned, and we will build on the lessons learned during the backlog retirement to continually improve our process.  Many reviewed records await final segregation of the still classified from declassified, while other collections are in queue for archival preservation work and the creation of finding aids.   Standard training for declassification review and communication between declassification and records management professionals need to expand. The NDC, working with our government agency partners will continue to move forward and build on this success to make access happen.

NDC Director, Sheryl Shenberger Welcomes the Attendees

NDC Director, Sheryl Shenberger Welcomes the Attendees



NDC staffer Jamie White provided this post about his latest find:

I recently reviewed a Department of Justice project (Class 130/145 Secret Enclosures, NND 66350) which covered a portion of the civil rights movement from 1968 and part of 1969. The collection covers the Poor Peoples campaign containing movements, surveillance, informant statements and bios on high ranking members such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Floyd McKissick. The project contains handwritten letters to both the President and Attorney General from people opposing the March on Washington, handwritten letters from African Americans pledging for help in the south, and memorandums from government officials pertinent to the March. It also contains the actual FBI case files and courtroom transcripts from the James Meredith’ attempted murder investigation and shooter James Aubrey Norvell’s trial. Reviewing these records in conjunction with Black History Month prompted me to write a short blog on some of Meredith’s accomplishments including his near death experience on June 6, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) was an Air Force veteran, American civil rights movement figure, writer, and political adviser. He is best known as the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi in 1962, sparking a violent clash, in which two people died, and 160 U.S. Marshals, and 40 National guardsmen were wounded. This is regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. Meredith graduated on August 18, 1963, with a degree in political science. He continued his education, focusing on political science at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria returning to the United States in 1965, where he attended law school through a scholarship at Columbia University and earned a law degree.

Four years after the integration of “Ole Miss,” Meredith launched his “March Against Fear” campaign. On June 6, 1966, Meredith set out from Memphis with an African walking stick in one hand, a Bible in the other, and a singular mission in mind. He planned to march alone, 220 miles to the Mississippi state capital of Jackson, to prove that an African American man could walk free in the South. The Voting Rights Act passed only a year earlier, and his goal was to inspire African Americans to register and go to the polls.

On the second day of the March just outside Hernando, Mississippi on Highway 51, Aubrey James Norvell shouted, “I just want James Meredith!” Shotgun blasts rang out across the highway, striking Meredith in the head, neck, back, and leg. Suddenly, one man’s crusade garnered much attention from larger civil rights organizations. After visiting Meredith at the hospital, Dr. King, CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, elected to continue the March in his absence, helping to register thousands of African American voters along the way. It would be twenty days before Meredith was able to rejoin the March, which ended on Sunday, June 26, twenty-one days after Meredith began the journey. Norvell pled guilty to the shooting, and was sentenced to five years in prison (three of which were suspended). Meredith is now 80 years old and currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi.

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